Friday, June 22, 2007
There is no single way to commemorate the work of our favorite authors. But it seems like London has come up with all of them. The easiest way, of course, is to visit the British library, where research has been so democratized that any student can pick up a reader's pass in under 10 minutes. No pretentious letters of introduction – just a brief chat with a pleasant research librarian and some paperwork. Or, you can visit one of the city's abundant, small book shops. If you decide to do your afternoon reading in Piccadilly's Waterstone Bookstore, you can sip on cocktails that are as inventive as the books they celebrate. The "Tequila Mockingbird" served in their roof café is a worthy indulgence if you can dish out the 11 pounds-- only to be followed by the "grapes of wrath" wine collection. The most popular way for an eager tourist to stalk their literary alter-egos, however, doesn't even require stepping indoors.
We know George Elliot lived at Number 4 Cheyne Street in an elegant Goergian townhouse overlooking the Thames. We also know that Jane Austen passed time with her brother at 23 Hans Place. Charles Carlyle's home still stands on what is now 24 Cheyne Street-- which was often visited by Dickens, Browning, and Tennyson. Even Oscar Wilde, despite his then-sordid deeds, is now clearly associated with a charming townhouse just across from the Army Museum in Chelsea.
We know this because little circular plaques have been permanently cemented onto the sides of their homes. Most of these bronze medallions have been in place for decades-- since they first started appearing in 1867. Today over 700 can be seen.
It was surprising to learn that in some cases, the placement of certain plaques has been delayed, or resisted by the Corporation of the City of London and the "local authorities" who are entrusted with overseeing the project. Of particular interest is the “home” of Ezra Pound which was unmarked and anonymous for the better part of the past 5 decades. In fact, the “home”—actually a tiny apartment down an alley behind a Church- did finally receive recognition. According to the current occupant on the ground floor, a retired artist, the plaque was only installed recently and after considerable struggle. In the course of a brief interview earlier this month (she graciously invited me in and even read a Pound poem to me) this graying but elegant artist told the first-hand account of meeting Pound’s daughter, Mary. Mary told her she had to fight desperately just to get “one of those silly little signs” on the wall. Perhaps in return for guarding the fort, as it were, the current occupant was given a picture of Pound by his daughter. She displays it proudly , but admitted that before all of this she had “scarcely heard of the man.”
Saturday, June 09, 2007
But I'll be back. And in the meantime, I've invited several fantastically witty and brilliant bookworm chicks to guest-blog. Whether they'll take me up on the offer for all of cyberspace's benefit is one of life's many mysteries, like what will happen to Tony, Harry Potter, and Campaign '08.
The new movie is going to be dark, dark, dark. But so are the times. So are the times.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Choice passage from Time magazine's Richard Corliss, comparing K.O to the good ole days of Hollywood:
The difference back then, kids, was the iron-clad code of behavior imposed on movie characters. No sexual union without marriage was condoned; no woman blithely chose to have a child out of wedlock; abortion (or, as it's delicately alluded to in Knocked Up, "shmuh-shmortion") was not considered, not even discussed. Considering all the strictures on what was allowed in movies, we marvel at the ingenuity of writers to confect situations that satisfied audiences then, and still delight us today, if only in their gleaming artificiality.
Apatow labors under none of those caveats. Marriage is an option, not a command, for couples living together; nearly 40% of all babies born in 2005 had unmarried mothers; more than a million legal abortions are performed each year in the U.S. So Apatow, like all modern comedy writers, has another challenge: how to create social and ethical barriers — the ones the old screenwriters relied on for their characters to hurdle — when few exist. His tactic: rebuild the old barriers. If those hobbling conventions worked for the old masters, they might be worth resuscitating.
Some women would terminate the pregnancy. Alison doesn't, because ... because then there would be no movie — at least, not the kind Apatow wants to make.(Suggestion for an edgier romantic comedy. Two unsuited people get together, girl gets pregnant, has abortion, then decides she likes the guy, and they set about raising a family of kids they really want.)
Having chosen to bring the baby to term, Alison now has to figure out whether she brings Ben into the equation. In such a dilemma, whom can she confide in? You might expect that such a personable sort would have a circle of women friends — what Apatow would call her pussy posse — but not Alison. All right, no girlfriends. But she's got an infotainment job in L.A.; the place must be swarming with gay men, ready to offer their sympathy or tart wisdom. In show business, isn't there a Will for every Grace? No again; Alison is effectively friendless. In the old movies, the heroine was often isolated by convention or prejudice. Here, Apatow strands Alison is in order to make the unthinkable Ben an attractive, indeed the only, choice.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I took Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth out of the public library a few weeks ago because I'm on a quest for staples of feminist literature. I've been reviewing so many "post-feminist" and contemporary feminist books recently that I felt like it's not fair to simply have a mental understanding of where all the big Ladies of feminist theory fit in, but to not actually read their words.
Naturally, I started with Naomi (well because she was the only paperback feminst in the library). Beauty was really theoretical, and I loved it for this reason. Non-fiction books are awesome, but I've read so many recently that are all like "I sat down with Jemima. Jemima is a 28-year old single blah blah blah. Jemima feels like the patriarchy is blah blah blah." There's journalistic validity (and narrative friendliness) to doing it thus, which is why most nonfiction books work that way, but it was just kind of bad bad-ass to read Naomi's prose which was always like: "the patriarchal power structure does x,y, and z." period. No justification needed.
The political stuff--about how as women take up more space politically, they're asked to take up less physical space--was stuff I'd alrady come to on my own and in Where The Girls Are, and the controversial anorexia stuff I think is well-documented in Courtney Martin's new book (Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters) but I want to focus in on her critique of women's magazines which was absolutely fucking fascinating, particularly for me, since I want to go into journalism but I'm having a real struggle reconciling my values with those of the chick-rags. (see my previous post for what I do read)
Here's what she said in a pinch: women like women's magazines because they're a uniquely communal female space and they promote shared experience. In other words, we bond with the other woman reading Elle, and in a world where we're so often thrown into competition with other women, this makes the mags incredibly unique.
But they're ultimately controlled by patriarchal corporations: advertisers and media companies, that aren't digging the empowerment thing. If women were happy with how they looked, cosmetics companies and diet companies would go broke. They exist to make us feel bad about ourselves.
So every article about a badass activist is followed by an article about getting yourself beach-ready. Every article about loving thyself is followed by an article about how to de-frizz your hair. You get the idea. They are fascinating because of their insidiousness, and the way they hold Americna women hostage. Personally, reading Wolf made me feel justified both in my previous obsession with the glossies, and uber-justified in my later decision to totally stop reading them (my body image was throughly improved by that simple act),
I have more to say about Wolf's theories on religion, but I have to add them later since I'm rushing. Suffice it to say that the sin of sex has been replaced by the sin of overeating or not grooming--men have found a new way to control women's bodies now that theocracy don't work. Wolf uses her English major background to stir up this part, and I love it like John Donne loves Jesus. Chew on that, readers.
And check out Cara's post on the BM (I had to call it that)--great young feminist minds think alike, clearly.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Here are my newsstand picks, from empowering to psuedo-empowering...
And incidentally, I wrote for the new Bitch. Yay.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
I'm sorry, Apatow-loving feminists, you almost swayed me, but not quite. The movie is pretty sexist. Sexist and funny, like most comedies out there, sure. But to say that Apatow's brilliant directing masks the misogynist undertones of the film is giving him way too much credit. The last scene of the movie features a guy looking at his daughter and telling her that NOT WEARING A CONDOM WAS THE BEST DECISION HE EVER MADE. On that alone, the movie is seriously problematic.
But let's rewind and I will try to discuss the movie rationally and methodically, to thwart my destiny as a the HYSTERICAL WALKING UTERUS that Apatow seems to think I am.
[I saw the movie last night with my honey, incidentally, because we were both interested by all the chatter and wanted to weigh in. Although the trailers bugged me, I kept an open mind . I am always ready to laugh, period. So if I had found the movie redeeming, I'd say so. If I found it offensive but hilarious enough to be redeeming, I'd say so. I found its humor and its offensiveness at cross-purposes though.]
Besides the "not wearing a condom was the best thing I ever did" line, the most egregiously offensive scene was when Heigl's character consulted with her mom about whether or not to "take care of it." This is where the movie lost me. The mom was presented as a castrating bitchTM who callously told her daughter that she only had one choice, and that the baby would be a nuisance--so the allegedly pro-choice person is actually anti-choice. When she described a family member who had an abortion and then had a "real baby" years later, the detached way she spoke made members of my audience audibly gasp. They were gasping at the cruelty of the pro-abortion position. Thanks Judd!
But guess who gets to be pro-baby in the film? The guy's sympathetic pothead dad. Talk about a male fantasy.
2) Uppity bitches
Why do the slackers who have all the fun and make the good jokes get to be guys (or one ugly girl)? This really annoyed me. I guess some women liked the film because they identified with the perfectly groomed, family-loving careerist femme-power duo of Heigl and Leslie Mann, but I for one would have felt more at home with the freaks and their bong.
Sucks for me. Apatow painted that world like some inner sanctum of male privilege. The guys got to make all the hilarious pop culture references. The guys got to live communally. When Heigl and Mann are together they talk not about movies or music, but about 1)men 2) how old and fat they are.
When I lived with women in college, we spent a lot of time passing a bong around and making pop culture references. The only part of Seth Rogen's lifestyle Heigl embraces is the porn, though (god, Apatow fucking loves porn).
The "comedy acting" embodied by the women of this and most contemporary comedies is all about shrillness and hysteria.
Where are the Truth About Cats and Dogs plots, or where are the silly heroines from movies like Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and Bridget Jones? When do we get to be goofy and lovable? Never, in Apatow's world.
3)Take care of me!
"Knocked Up" is all about the man's responsibility to "take care" of the woman and child. Why would Katherine Heigl, a successful woman, want to be in a relationship with Seth Rogen? Why wouldn't she just want to raise the child as friends? Cause she need a man, silly. Cause in Apatow's words, she wants to "do the right thing!" HUH?
Why does Leslie Mann's character (another castrating bitch TM ) love Paul Rudd's character so much? Why are we still treading these re-hashed stereotypes?
Also, why don't the women get to be ambivalent about kids? Heigl doesn't want to be pregnant but as soon as she really knows she is, she stops crying and embraces mommydom. Mann is obsessed with being a good mom and chides her hubby for not being an equally good parent--her only concern with her existence as a mom is not being hot anymore.
4. Women-parts are scary
Why does Heigl's pregnancy make her go so crazy? The hormones from her lady-organs.
Why won't Seth Rogen have sex with her? Cause he's scared of her fetus-filled uterus.
Why won't she have sex with him? Cause the bump makes her look fat.
What's the scariest thing Rogens' friend sees? A baby popping out.
What's the insult all the boyz use? Vagina.
I don't think it's ironic, incidentally, that they use that word repeatedly. I think Apatow is trying to be ironic, but I really think he fears the nether-regions.
There's so much else to talk about (or ask endless open-ended questions about) with this movie, but I'm totally exhausted. I didn't think Knocked Up was a knowing in-joke. I thought it was a save-the-children screed that totally ignored the perspective of women.
For more, see here and here and the comments on my last post here.
Ooh, and here's another one.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Salon gets all condescendingly egalitarian and lists a buncha good summer reads. I've been wanting to snag the first one about Shakespeare for a while. But why must fun reads get consigned to the summer? I like a good thriller on a cold winter's night just as well, and enjoy tackling 19th century colossi on the beach.
Jeremy Sisto of Kidnapped and Waitress fame (aka the best psychopath ever) will be joining L&O and hopefully pump some life back into the franchise. Holla!
But who's the brilliant pop-blogger who chronicles this exciting development?
The amazingly wonderful ladies at the Hathor Legacy discuss Maid Marian on the new BBC Robin Hood. Olivia de Haviland was my favorite film Marian, but I haven't seen this awesome series yet so I can't say if she gets a run for her money.
Also, Marian is a very special character to me because a) she's kick-ass b) she cross-dresses in most versions of the legend and c) it's my bloody middle name.
Enjoy your rainy Mondays, readers o' mine. A plus tard.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
First things first: I enjoyed the debates, except for some mad boring interludes, and I have to say I was most impressed by HRC and Edwards (and Kucinich of course). Hillary was just calm and confident and smooth and I dunno, as a woman I just can't help but be proud to see the way she tangles with the big boys. Edwards' answers on the "bumper-sticker" slogan of the war on terror and healthcare were top-notch. Kucinich on the other hand, is just right on everything.
Now, on to the big show. There's not much one can say about this epsiode of The Sopranos except "holy sh*t," and not in a good way. As a good friend once said five minutes ago, it's like Act V of Macbeth, Hamlet or Lear when the Shakespearean shit hits the fan and the body count starts growing. Tony is all alone now, and it's both tragic and fateful. This wise person also pointed out that Tony's fate is irrelevant from here on in--his entrance into that dark room and laying down on the bed all alone signifies a death, his metaphorical death. Contrasted with the beginning of the episode when he was huddling confidently with Bobby and Silvio and sharing his concerns with them, it's quite stark.
Now, one of the reasons I am attributing much of the deep thoughts to someone else is because I spent a good part of the episode peering around the corner or running out of the room or covering my eyes or something like that. Despite my love for the show, I haven't become desensitized to its violence.
So, what's it gonna be for Tony? Everyone keeps saying death, prison, Feds, but I would add "mundane obscurity" or "diminished mob role" to the litany of possibilities, both of which would be tragic in their own way. Also, I think shit is definitely going down with AJ.
And as a coda, the massive male make-out sesson between Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen on the MTV awards made my week. It was super hot and hilarious. How ridiculous, then, that the question of gay rights is still on the table, politically speaking. Oh well.
If people keep making sexist attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton, I just might have to vote for her.
These slanderous cash-in biographies piss me off. Sure, dudes, hit Hillary on the war, on her centrism, whatever. But we'd never see so much personal hatred spewed against a man. And that's the truth. I think if HRC is our nominee ( and I do hope it's Edwards instead, but regardless) you will see a butload of women secretly feelding damn proud to cast their votes for her. We shall see.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Sometimes I just love my mom so much. Yesterday, while she was kindly walking her daughter around the corner to the deli to buy a turkey sandwich, I asked her "Mom, did you ever read Housekeeping?" and she was like "by Marilynne Robinson? I didn't get it. What was the point?"
And all my feelings of cretin-dom for not really digging the book evaporated. I truly was mom's daughter. Because while I recognized the quality of the writing and the evocative description, I was bored.
Everyone has said that this book is some-sort of "must-read" and I can see why, I suppose. The book is starkly different from anything I've ever read--full of long, lingering descriptions, the kind where you have to read every single word to appreciate it, and a kind of reverence for nature and haunting quality that are remarkable. But as a reader, I just didn't feel propelled forward--despite all the train imagery and symbolism. It's a matter of taste, I suppose; you can appreciate someone's talent and vision without personally connecting to it.
For those who care about such things, it's the story of two girls who are essentially abandoned in this remote, desolate, and gorgeous Western mountain town, and the different paths they eventually take to deal with their family's somewhat gruesome legacy. But really, it's the story of the town, Fingerbone, which features in a way as the main character, with its mists and lights and snowstorms and floods and haunted lake. It's both a vivid and an ethereal place--but I wanted more sympathy with the human characters. To each her own. I guess I have to embrace my family's legacy of liking novels with a good-ass plot.
Friday, June 01, 2007
As for the alarming tendency of movies to completely gloss over abortion as a feasible option, as evidenced by movies like this, Waitress, and Saved!, all of which are totally critical of our sexual mores and parenthood obsession and otherwise kind of edgy, it's frustrating. I don't think a movie can keep its edge by pretending that something multitudes of women go through in the US alone is nonexistent, or unmentionable. As Stevens says,
This omission [of the a-word] smells of the focus group, and it's a disappointment in a movie that otherwise prides itself on its unsentimental honesty about the realities of unplanned parenthood. It's just not believable that, in Alison and Ben's upper-middle-class, secular L.A. milieu, abortion would not be matter-of-factly discussed as a possibility in the case of a pregnancy this accidental. If she doesn't want one, great—obviously, there'd be no movie if she did—but let's hear about why not. Otherwise, her character becomes a cipher, a foil for Ben's epiphanies about growing up, without being allowed any epiphanies of her own.
I'm all about free speech, of course, and although there are occasionally legit issues with protecting students in a closed community from certain kinds of hateful nonsense in certain specific cases, there's absolutely zero fucking reason to fire someone for writing a novel. And I don't understand it about Horace Mann--you'd think it would be totally thrilled to be written up, fiction-style.
Because of Academy X, Horace Mann was vaulted into the top tier of boarding schools and colleges that have been novelized, if you will. In fact, Academy X, which was brassy, zippy, and a brief read, aptly summed up the nouveau-riche, hyper-competitive atmosphere of Ho'Mann just as Curtis Sittenfeld's angsty, overwritten but excellent Prep was a class-conscious ode to uber-WASPY Groton (hi Babs!) and This Side of Paradise was a tortured yet loving look back at Princeton. People write about schools. People are fascinated by schools because schools are like microcosms of society and prisons all in one! Can we fucking get over it already?
Horace Mann, which was started because Jews couldn't get into those preppy prep schools like Andover and Hotchkiss and so forth, has always been the hard-working, immigrant aspirational, cranked-up-on-speed little cousin of those staid gentlefolk academies in New England. And I always kind of liked that about it. So why not take proud ownership of trashy old beach read Academy X, head of school Kelly?You should say, "Hey, you may write great literature, you Anglo-Saxon bitches. But we at Horace Mann write books that SCREAM REALLY LOUDLY and have ridiculously contrived plots." Let's show those polo-playing WASPs what we're all about--our seedy underbelly (or over-belly in Horace Mann's case, all the money-manuevering is pretty obvious).